Written by Russ Dobler
Dinosaurs ain’t what they used to be. The scaly “thunder lizards” became something much softer beginning in 1996, when the first true dinosaur with evidence of feather-like structures was discovered in China. Since then, over 40 species of feathered dinosaurs have been identified, including the famous Velociraptor, and many experts now believe that all dinosaurs may have had feathers. But you’d never know that from looking at popular toys and models.
Professional designer and sculptor David Silva is looking to change that. Guided by a childhood passion for dinosaurs and a stickler’s instinct for accuracy, he’s started a Kickstarter campaign that will finally bring your favorite raptors to life, in all their faithful, feathered glory, at 1/6th size. The Pulp spoke with the “Beasts of the Mesozoic” creator to find out where his drive for this project comes from, and what might lie ahead in his depiction of the land before time.
You’re no amateur. Making toys and models is your day job. Tell us about your history in the toy business.
Silva: Well, I went to school to do comic books. I wanted to draw comics. And then that kind of turned into wanting to do design…do concept design. I built my portfolio toward that, and that led to me designing for McFarlane [Toys] when I got out of school. They would have me come in…and meet with their lead designer there. I just got so into it, but I kind of had to figure things out pretty quick because [I was using] new material[s], and I enjoyed it and I didn’t want to leave, so I just kept doing it. I was talking to my boss about, “This is what I want to do; I want to sculpt.” He said, “You’re gonna have to get a lot better.” Well, “I will!” So he kept me around, so it worked out.
Eventually I ended up leaving…and an opportunity came up at Hasbro and I ended up working for them for about a year and a half. Then that kind of had its issues, and I was able to jump ship and go to NECA, and that’s where I’ve been for the past six and a half years.
You’ve done your own business before, with Creative Beast Studio, right?
Silva: Yeah, I started that in the fall of 2009, so I’ve been doing that now for a bit. It’s only been model kits up until now. This is the first time I’ve tried to do action figures. It’s so expensive to make action figures. Model kits, not a big deal – few hundred bucks for molds and you’re set.
Silva: I was interested in them when I was a kid. I would draw them all the time. I had all the books. When I got to my teens, I kind of forgot about it, but when I started working at McFarlane, they were doing the dragons, and I got to work on the dragons. I was a little disappointed with some of the dragons that were being made because they were looking kind of humanoid; like the anatomy was very humanoid. So I started to think dinosaurs again – what if they had more dinosaur-liked anatomy? But that’s a whole other thing, too, because we don’t really know exactly what they looked like, so there’s a lot of investigating, a lot of problem-solving, a lot of researching, and eventually I just started getting into dinosaurs because it informed me sculpting the dragons.
I finally finished a dinosaur sculpture – all this was practice – and there was a guy who runs a magazine called “Prehistoric Times,” and he said, “Why don’t you have that made into a model kit?” I was like, “I guess I could.” It actually turned out to be pretty neat, so I just kept doing that, and realized that dinosaurs [were] a big interest of mine that had been there all the time, I just needed the right motivation to continue doing that.
So we do kind of know what dinosaurs looked like now, or at least we’re getting a better idea of it, and it’s really not what we thought they looked like 20 years ago. You don’t see a lot of that in the popular representations, but you’re going right for it with the feathers.
Silva: Yeah, you know what’s interesting, the idea of the meat-eating dinosaurs, the smaller ones especially, having some sort of feathers – that was proposed way back in the late ‘70s. And gradually it started catching some supporters. It didn’t really become a big deal until the ‘90s when they started finding a lot of these fossil imprints in China, and now a lot of people know about it. It’s not in any popular movies, but if you say, “Yeah, dinosaurs and birds are linked; birds are descendants and all that,” not too many people are going to argue with you nowadays. Back then, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they’d go, “What are you talking about? They look like lizards.” It’s changed a lot, for sure.
But there really aren’t any other figures or models that are feathered. Do you know of any?
Silva: Well here’s the thing – there are other…dinosaur toys out there…that have feathers, but they’re not articulated, and they’re kind of soft. They’re not sturdy. And then you have the Jurassic Park figures – that’s probably the most articulation that you’re going to get, but they’re obviously not feathered. They’re not accurate. It’s like you either get something you can move around or get something that’s a little more accurate, but I’ve never seen [those two aspects] put together before.
How did you pick which dinosaurs, specifically, to use for this series?
Silva: The raptors seemed like a good choice as a first go at it because, even if you don’t know what a Velociraptor looks like, you’ve heard the name before. Everyone has an idea of what that is, and it’s most likely based on Jurassic Park, but at least that’s a starting point. So that was appealing. It’s not a very big dinosaur, so I’m not looking at a huge [cost] to produce these. If I were doing a T. Rex, it would be twice as much plastic, even if it was the same length…
Also, there are a lot of similar-sized species that I could use to make additional raptors and make use of the same pieces while keeping them accurate, because they were so similar in real life. But they’re different enough to have their own look to each one. To be honest, when I first started this, I was surprised at how many there were. I knew of a few, but I kept looking, and holy crap – like, I had no idea. I probably knew that there were, like, two or three around that size…so it works really well in that regard, because I can share so many parts and get so many figures out of it. The size is nice because, even though it’s 12 inches long, it’s still small enough so it’s affordable for people to buy. As I move forward and I have support, I can get a little more ambitious. I’d like to do larger animals or maybe animals that don’t share so many parts.
What about the colors of the feathers? Are they also based on studies, or did you just kind of go nuts with the imagination on that?
Silva: Very few dinosaurs have any evidence of their colorization. Maybe three or four, I think. None of those are ones I’ve done so far, so what I would do is find, sort of a modern-day equivalent. Something that would live in the same type of environment. So I’ll narrow it down to several birds, and I’d just kind of use my own judgment as to which one would look best, as an inspiration for that dinosaur…if one used to live in a desert, I would look at desert birds. If one used to live in the forest, I would look at forest birds. I also look for variety as well; I don’t want them to look too similar. I’ve got to make sure that each one has its own distinct look, because that’s part of the challenge. It’s worked out so far.
The Kickstarter is almost 200% funded at this point. Are you surprised that there’s such a demand for this? Have you gotten a lot of positive feedback?
Silva: Yeah, absolutely. I thought there was a chance that it would do well. If I was lucky, I would get the big stretch goal raptors made. We actually blew right through those way early, and I was just left like, “Wait a minute. What do I do now?” This whole past week has been me scrambling to come up with new things that we can do, because now I have an audience. I have people who want more of this, and I only have a short period of time to come up with something else, while this is still going on, so that was an interesting challenge. It’s really pushed me to be more creative and come up with something that I wouldn’t have normally done.
When I came up with these accessory packs and the fan-voted raptor repaints, it’s stuff that I would want, and [apparently] it’s stuff that other people want, too. It’s neat how there’s this back-and-forth between what I’m doing and how the fans are influencing the Kickstarter, because they’re so passionate. I really feel like we’re bouncing off each other at this point, and there’s this balance…to where we’re building the Kickstarter together at this point.
The Kickstarter campaign for Beasts of the Mesozoic: Raptor Series ends this Friday, May 29, so there’s still time to capture your favorite, along with “accessory packs” of their likely home environments, if the stretch goals are reached. If all goes well, Silva aims to challenge his design skills with Triceratops and his fellow Ceratopsians in 2017.